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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 16:15 GMT
Call for 'prompt' store decision
John Lewis wants to locate at Sprucefield
John Lewis wants to locate at Sprucefield
Retail giant John Lewis has warned that it will not go ahead with plans for a store in Northern Ireland if it does not receive planning permission soon.

The company submitted an application for a large outlet at Sprucefield Park, near Lisburn, six months ago.

Traders in Belfast city centre have raised objections to the size of the proposed development.

Meanwhile, the Sprucefield development has been acquired by the company that owns Belfast's Castle Court Centre.

Planning application

Australian company Westfield Group has completed the purchase of Sprucefield Park from Stannifer.

The first phase of the 230,000 sq ft retail park, close to the M1, opened in late 2003 and tenants include Sainsbury's, B&Q and Currys.

A planning application for a second phase, totalling 460,000 sq ft, was submitted in June 2004.

The new retail space includes a 220,000 sq ft department store, pre-let to John Lewis.

Westfield said it was committed to starting work on the 150m expansion of Sprucefield Park as soon as possible.

On Friday, John Lewis said a "prompt" decision on the planning application was critical to its plans.

We must reiterate that a prompt decision is critical to John Lewis' plans
Gareth Thomas

The company's director of retail operations, Gareth Thomas, said: "Westfield has confirmed its commitment to supporting John Lewis' plans to open at Sprucefield in 2006.

"While we remain positive that planning permission for the overall development at Sprucefield will be granted, we must reiterate that a prompt decision is critical to John Lewis' plans."

He said that the company had a very tight building schedule for Sprucefield and avoiding further delay at this planning stage was "crucial".

Mr Thomas said that Sprucefield was the "only viable location" for its store in Northern Ireland and he ruled out Belfast city centre saying it could not sustain a full-range department store .

He said that the 40m project will provide about 700 jobs in the department store and a further 200 in warehousing.

'Contentious application'

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce president Gerald Steinberg said that nobody except the developers was supporting the planned development.

He said that the operators of shopping centres in Lisburn, Banbridge and Newry would be affected by the massive retail development, as well as Belfast.

"It is clearly a very contentious application, that has attracted little support from the commercial world, and it would seem that a public inquiry is the best way to deal with it," he said.

Mr Steinberg added that John Lewis was "very welcome" to locate in Northern Ireland if it chose an appropriate location.

He said he would "delighted" to see the company in Belfast.

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